Netflix delivered the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire to my house more than two weeks ago. Karen and I have been waiting for the perfect, angst-free, quiet, uninterrupted two hour period of time to push the DVD tray closed and lose ourselves in what I’ve heard is a great story. If your house is like mine, then you understand how just the thought of such a two-hour span reveals the eternal optimist that lies within me.
I’m not a big documentary fan. But given the Academy‘s recognition, a friend’s Facebook status, and that I liked Winged Migration a few years back, I thought I would give Man on Wire a go. I wouldn’t describe this movie as “must see.” I would, however, encourage anyone with an eye for style, an imagination that is too often found wanting in today’s world, and an appreciation for history to give it a shot. It documents tightwire artist Philippe Petit‘s 1974 walk from the top of the South Tower to the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
The reason I would write the first words about this movie here is this: there is a subtle beauty inherent. I think much of it has to do with the romance I associate with the world we lost on September 11, 2001. I know that our pre-9/11 world was just as flawed as what we currently have, but there’s instinctive in the human heart that makes the past more perfect and less real over time. The filmmakers were intentional, I think, in making the World Trade Center a tragic centerpiece in the unfolding drama. But the subtle beauty is also associated with Petit’s “walk” across the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral in his hometown of Paris. I’ve read books on beauty. I’ve tried to write about it. It seems to be always just beyond my words. Regardless of my efforts, there are those moments when you just know you’re close. It’s in these times I feel like I should be grateful for what looks and feels like an invitation into something transcendent. For whatever reason, I felt like Petit’s tightwire walk at Notre Dame was his own unique invitation into beauty.
Ultimately, this is where beauty can be found. Beauty is found out on the tightrope. It’s found in our first steps into the unknown.
“He didn’t want to conquer the universe, just beautiful things.” That’s what close, if not romantically linked, friend Annie Allix said of Petit. Half asleep, I was roused by these words and quickly grabbed something to write them on. Petit was in search of beauty and, by taking his tightwire act public, was–and somehow still is–inviting us into his quest. That’s just a beautiful concept. Beauty at this level has innate risks. It requires vulnerability. Pursuit. Sacrifice. I think what I was struck with in this space was my own tightwire. That is, where is it? Petit’s feat, and the whole of Man on Wire, asks us to find our own tightwire and be willing to accept the call out into the wild. Ultimately, this is where beauty can be found. Beauty is found out on the tightrope. It’s found in our first steps into the unknown.
In this context, the “beautiful things” to which Allix refers are so much bigger than the universe. Whereas I’ve always considered the universe to be the “macro” and those things around me to be the “micro,” Man on Wire asks me to at least consider the possibility that this could be backwards.